Ho hum

I just read this article – http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2013/12/22/quantum-theory-wont-save-soul/#.UsJMR2RDvAG (I don’t know how to add links in wysiwyg mode) (yay, now I do!).  Apparently some people have thought that a soul, separate from the body, might be influencing the brain via quantum interactions.  The implication is that the brain is a sort of control unit for the body but does not house consciousness.  A couple of possibilities are mentioned, the first being via the uncertainty principle (with a couple of examples of how this might work), followed by quantum coherence.

The arguments in favour of the uncertainty principle affecting consciousness try to suggest that somehow the calcium channels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltage-dependent_calcium_channel) (I will figure out how to embed links) can be influenced, but application of Heisenberg’s equations show that there’s not enough energy output by a long shot to affect even the weakest type of chemical bond.  Another argument suggests that there could be a ‘butterfly effect’, but the brain is well defended against tiny changes, which, the article explains, is a good thing as thermal noise from atoms due to temperature would otherwise be wreaking all kinds of havoc.  Probably.

The second idea, which although not about a ‘separate soul’ but about a theoretical notion of conciousness, relies on quantum coherence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_coherence#Quantum_coherence).  The article does not go into detail but indicates that it is wise to practice skepticism.  This particular theory has a name – Orchestrated objective reduction (or Orch-OR), which suggests that since humans are capable of knowing the truth of a statement that has no formal proof that can prove its own inconsistency, therefore human consciousness is running a non-computable algorithm.  (this is a very brief synopsis – read this for more detail – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orchestrated_objective_reduction).  There are many criticisms or Orch-OR, one of which being “as resting on the fallacy that all computational algorithms must be capable of mathematical description. As a counter-example, [it is cited that] the assignment of license plate numbers to specific vehicle identification numbers, in order to register a vehicle. According to John Searle, no mathematical function can be used to connect a known VIN with its LPN, but the process of assignment is quite simple—namely, “first come, first served”—and can be performed entirely by a computer.”

So why am I writing about his?  Because it seems to be as good an example as any of “picking and choosing” arguments that support a pleasing hypothesis without testing it thoroughly.  (It seems that there is a greater chance of wave function collapse affecting consciousness than there is of the uncertainty principle, in that there isn’t exactly proof that the premise is wrong as much as the arguments supporting the idea are flawed).  A task as simple, or at least as obvious as applying Heisenberg’s equation debunks the idea that the brain is affected by uncertainty (also, while I admit to not knowing very much at all about the subject in any kind of deep way, wouldn’t the uncertainty principle imply that in order to interact with the brain the soul must still be composed of baryonic matter of some sort which is presumably nested somewhere else in a physical-ish space?).  There are of course more mundane examples of theories based perhaps on isolated examples or coincidences that don’t stand up to close scrutiny (just today I was also reading about how people were initially afraid that traveling faster than 20 mph by train would lead to fatal asphyxiation), and it seems to me that one of the main differences between a robust scientific hypthesis – even one which is disproven – and a shoddy one is the extent to which emotion has an influence.  It is nice to think of an external soul which will live on after the body dies.

So the purpose of this blog is, in part to get my thoughts out and explore what makes a sound argument.  It is not really intended to be read by anyone, and is probably going to be mind-rottingly dull as I will be going to great lengths not to be provocative or confrontational.  While I do have social and political views (libertarians can fuck right off), this is generally not going to be the venue for them to be aired.


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